Russia’s Nuclear Industry Now Provides Vital Services to Asia! European Plants No Longer Operating!
The Building Blocks of Security. Special Report by Anton Podkovenko
Fast physical stands, the name speaks for itself. "Fast" because they allow us to create and study nuclear reactor models that use fast neutrons "Physical" because the models are pretty real. They're called "stands" because of the experimental nature of the conducted research.
This is unique footage. An experiment for the Chinese Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR) modeling the sodium bubble volume effect. Using the recently upgraded and re-opened FPS-1 stand in Obninsk, scientists extract rods from the active zone, replace some sodium blocks with hollow blocks, load them back, and study how the model operates. Under real-life conditions, the boiloff of energy sources can cause an accident. The Chinese don't have their own laboratory where they could mimic this situation.
Dmitry Klinov, deputy CEO: "We perform our obligations to the People's Republic of China by modeling their CEFR research reactor under a full load of plutonium oxide fuel. We'll finish the job by the end of June".
The research is conducted to determine nuclear security status. It's a concept in the industry. Without it, one can't get permission to build a reactor or a research stand, neither in China nor in Russia. Even though the stand is basically a small nuclear reactor, all industrial requirements are much higher, especially after it got upgraded.
Andrey Goverdovsky, CEO: "We fully upgraded the security system. It's essential. One can't operate a stand that's less secure than the existing reactors. The majority of our funds were spent on that. We also upgraded the control systems, monitoring systems, and so on. Everything's technologically advanced and is built primarily from Russian components, which is very important".
Andrey Goverdovsky claims he didn't sign a single paper until he was sure that his employees got a feel of the new equipment. The upgrade took three years. First came the construction works, then, all systems got installed. The employees were studying their features for months. The majority of scientists are younger than 35 so they're quick learners.
Dmitry Pomeshchikov, lead engineer: "We replaced all relay circuits with modern controllers. It allowed us to increase the operational security of the entire system".
Following their Chinese counterparts, the French scientists prepared an order for the Russian stands. France has a similar complex but it's been closed and isn't in use anymore. After the Fukushima accident, Europe increased NPP security requirements many-fold. That's why it was too expensive for Paris to upgrade the stand and continue working. On the other hand, Obninsk has clients from India and South Korea. The facility has 10 years worth of Russian and international research orders.
The main purpose of the stand is not commercial use but research within the framework of the Russian federal program New Generation Nuclear Power Technologies.
Dmitry Klinov, deputy CEO: "Brest, a fast reactor with a lead heat conductor that provides natural security. We're currently designing the Brest-300 reactor. We must build this reactor within the next decade on the platform of the Siberian Chemical Plant. Our next step in the field will be the Brest-1200 reactor".
The FPS system acquires experimental tasks in the course of operation of the BN-800 fast neutron reactor located at the Beloyarsk NPP. It's the operational prototype of the more powerful BN-1200 power unit. Their security will be checked at the FPS-2 stand, which will be launched in late 2019. The new stand is fundamentally the same but bigger in size. The operation principle of this stand reminds us of LEGO building blocks. The employees joke about that but the joke is pretty accurate because fast reactor models are assembled from small parts into larger facilities, according to a number of blueprints depending on the experiment. The FPS-2 also has a brand new energy supply system, an advanced venting system, and strict radiation control. All equipment was made in Russia.
The upgraded facility was approved by the veteran of the nuclear industry; that's what colleagues call Vladimir Dvukhsherstnov. He came to the Physics and Energy Institute back in 1959 as a junior laboratory technician. He's been working with stands since 1968. He rose through the ranks from junior research associate to the chief operator of the FPS system.
Vladimir Dvukhsherstnov, chief operator: "When I first came here, the equipment was manufactured by the company of Sergey Korolev. Back then, we had cosmonaut Rukavishnikov servicing our equipment".
Naturally, the stands have changed a lot since then but the flexibility and pioneer spirit remained the same. The materials and geometry of the upgraded FPS allow it to test any heat conductor or moderator. An entire research reactor can be assembled. Or a part of it. Or only the channels that require checking. There are no configuration limitations.
Dmitry Pomeshchikov, lead engineer: "The fuel rod of the FPS-2 stand is about 10 feet long. It's a pipe 2 inches in diameter filled with various construction materials in the form of sodium, zirconium, and lead blocks. In addition, depending on the size of the reactor, we insert nuclear materials, for example, uranium of varying enrichment grades, plutonium, as well as nitride fuel".
Scientists consider fast neutron reactor experiments to be the dawn of a new energy era. An ordinary heat reactor utilizes only 20% of the fuel, while the fast one is capable of burning lone uranium, processed plutonium, and even the most dangerous minor actinides, which take millions of years to decompose. That's the new fuel cycle based on U-238, which is pretty abundant on our planet unlike its 235th isotope, which is now used by the majority of NPPs and will last us 100 years at best. Still, the industry isn't going to give up heat reactors. Synthesis is required.
Andrey Goverdovsky, CEO: "If fast reactors continue developing, the two-component nuclear energy industry will also develop, It means that we'll be working with all types of uranium. Thus, no heavy atom will remain unused, they'll be giving their energy to humanity. That will increase our fuel resources thousandfold for thousands of years to come. That means green energy. That's the role the FPS plays in all this".
Green energy is safe for our environment. Fast reactors open this opportunity; both Russia and other countries realize that. That's why the unique experimental base in Obninsk is so popular.
The Russian Fast Physical Stand system has no analogs in the world, at least among the ones operating now. That's why the experiments conducted here can be called unique. That's the way the foundation of the future nuclear industry is created, more reliable and secure than ever.